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I decided to make a list: 20 actions to cultivate hope – Mary Hix


Mary HixLast Advent, in the midst of a family crisis, I did not feel hopeful. More like cynical and terrified, actually. But I wanted to find a way to practice or cultivate hope as part of Advent. Is it possible to practice hope when despair seems easier or more realistic?

Turns out there is a good bit of research about the importance of hope. Hope is NOT positive thinking, but changing my mindset was foundational in cultivating hope. Paul claims in Romans 5:4 that hope is the final good that comes from the character that suffering can produce. Huh? Character produces hope?

If character is doing and thinking the right things, even in the midst of terrible circumstances or deep fear, then perhaps undertaking specific actions could foster hope. Maybe this was worth a try.

I came up with a list of items and asked my family to help me stay accountable in practicing hope. I wrote down a list of action steps on the glass of the French door by the breakfast table. We each chose an item every day to practice and agreed to talk about our experiences.

This activity didn’t eliminate my fear, but I did feel hopeful that I was doing something. Maybe I could tweak my feelings. Maybe I could experience Advent in a new way. Maybe I could lighten my darkness. Maybe I could celebrate the coming of the Light of the World with a new appreciation for both light and darkness.

Maybe you can, too.

  1. Read a positive story about someone helping others.
  2. Call a friend who is hopeful or will make you laugh.
  3. Do something kind for a stranger.
  4. Give a compliment to every coworker today.
  5. Think of a different thing you are grateful for at every stoplight or stop sign.
  6. Journal about ways God has helped you in the past.
  7. Reframe one automatic pessimistic thought about a specific situation or person.
  8. Write a positive post card or note to someone.
  9. Reconnect with nature by taking a short walk, watching the clouds, listening to the birds, counting the stars.
  10. Adopt a positive breath prayer in the form of a simple, memorable phrase or sentence, and say it 10 to 20 times throughout the day.
    A few examples:  My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.  The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.   Abba, I belong to you.   Holy One, heal me.   I am God’s beloved child.   Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.
  11. Decide on one goal for 2020. Write it down and think about action steps for that goal.
  12. Watch a funny cat or dog video on YouTube – really!
  13. Pray a sentence prayer all day for someone else.
  14. Visualize a happy image, place or situation for 30 seconds.
  15. Keep a list of all the positive things that happened today.
  16. Fast from TV, radio, or Internet news.
  17. Make Romans 15:13 your prayer just before sleep.
    May the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in him, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  18. Engage in conversations about what gives people hope and what practices cultivate hope.
  19. Plant a winter bulb that will bloom inside and watch it grow.
  20. Tell someone a specific prayer need and ask them to pray for you.

A year later, my family crisis has passed. But in a world that seems dangerously out of control, I have other compelling reasons to commit to cultivating hope. Maybe you do, too. After all, as Paul points out in Romans 5:5, “hope does not disappoint.”

May we all find the truth of the power of hope during this Advent and throughout the coming year.



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Skip the Stores on Black Friday; Share Your Family’s Stories

By Mitch Carnell  – November 27, 2019 –

As we were walking from the parking lot to his office, I heard my mother say to my dad, “I’m not sure I want Mitch to get new glasses. He has always said that I was so pretty. I am afraid he will find out the truth.” Dad just laughed.

This is a tiny sliver of my family lore, but if I do not write it down somewhere, it will be lost when I die.

There are thousands of events big and small in my family’s history. Hardly any of them important to anyone outside our family, but are significant in telling the story of our family. They are important in making me who I am.

The same is true for your family. If you do not record your story and your family’s stories, they will be gone forever when you are gone.

Bob Hudson, a former senior editor at Zondervan Publishers, said, “Our story is a part of God’s story.” When our stories are considered part of God’s story, they take on new meaning.

This was a new idea for me. I had never thought of my story in that way until I heard Bob say it. Think of how encouraging your story could be to others.

StoryCorps created a National Day of Listening, encouraging people on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) to sit with other family members to tell and record those family stories.

The benefits of such a day are enormous. You don’t have to join the mob of those pushing and shoving to buy the latest “must have” gadget.

There is nothing to buy and most important of all, you will be left with a treasure chest of family lore.

When I was to receive an honorary degree from Lander University, I walked out on stage to deliver the commencement address and spotted my Aunt Norma and Uncle Jim, my mother’s brother, in the audience.

They had never attended any event in which I was involved, but my father had died and my mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They had come to support me. They could never imagine the depth of my gratitude and joy.

That too is a part of my story and God’s story. It illustrates how important small gestures can be.

My late wife, Liz, was well known for her creative abilities but also as a great procrastinator; consequently, I was astounded when she insisted on making our daughter’s wedding dress.

As Suzanne was about to descend the steps from the dressing room in the church, her mother was hastily pinning up the hem of her dress. Mercifully, everyone focused on the beautiful bride without noticing the pins.

Suzanne only remembers her mother’s love that created the dress. Although Liz died 30 years ago, who would want this story to be lost?

While my sister and I were growing up, our dad was an impatient person. When we were assigned a task by him, he expected an instant response. – “Don’t make me tell you twice.”

After my mother contracted Alzheimer’s disease and could no longer communicate verbally, this same impatient man sat by her side, held her hand and talked to her for hours at a time. Theirs was a love that was stronger than any disease.

Is that an important story? He showed me by example what love really means. I thought of him constantly when my late wife suffered from the same horrible disease.

Don’t let your story die. Don’t allow your family’s stories to die. They are important both to you and future generations.

Get together with whomever you consider family and tell the old stories. Start with a single incident. The rest will come.

Mitch Carnell

Mitch Carnell is a member of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of “Our Father: Discovering Family.” His writings can also be found at

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Sitting in someone else’s chair – Brett Younger –


Most of the people in my congregation sit in the same area of the sanctuary most Sundays. A few have been sitting in the exact same pew for 20 years. I know where to look for certain people. I have figured out which faces are good to look at while preaching – engaged, thoughtful and interested faces. I have figured out which faces not to look at while preaching – confused, concerned and disinterested faces.

Most of us like sitting in the same spot. How do we react when we come to the kitchen table and someone is in our place? What happens when we walk into the office and someone is sitting in our chair?

The way we respond says something about us. Some choose not to make it a big deal. We sit in another place and try not to think about it, but we feel strange sitting in someone else’s chair.

Others respond more assertively: “You’re in my chair. You need to move.”

“The willingness to sit where another sits is the beginning of love.”

There must be a third category of people who are not only willing, but eager to sit in a different place and see from a different perspective; but this third group has to be the smallest.

We do not want to sit where others sit, because we like believing that our perspective is the best perspective. This is how we divide the world into us and them.

Doesn’t it feel awkward to walk into a party where everyone is something you are not – different politics, different race, different religion or much younger than you are? Or you are wearing a sweatshirt and everyone else is dressed up? Do you almost unconsciously start looking for someone who looks like you?

If one day you said, “I think I met someone today who’s going to be a good friend,” would the people who know you best be able to guess how old your prospective friend is? Just by hearing that you made a new friend could they estimate how much money the new friend makes, how much education they have or where they live?

Some rich people talk about the poor in a way that makes it obvious that they have never thought about what it is like not to have a home. Some white people talk about people of color in a way that makes it clear that they have never imagined how it feels to be a victim of prejudice. Some straight people talk about gay people in a way that leaves no doubt that they have never considered what it is like to be gay.

Counselors often encourage married couples to argue from the other side. Sometimes they make them switch chairs to help them see from the other’s perspective. Don’t you enjoy it when judges sentence slum lords to spend a month living in their own apartment buildings?

If our parents had a different kind of faith that had led them to a different sanctuary, we would probably have different ideas about faith.

“We need to stop looking for people who are like us and start listening to people who are not.”

If we could trade places for just a day imagine what we would discover – students and teachers, 70 year olds and seven year olds, married and single, natives and immigrants, church people and those who would rather be anything else, and those who have been abused and those who have abused.

When your sister says that she is getting a divorce you learn not to make sweeping judgments. When your best friend gets laid off, you stop seeing the unemployed as a statistic. When your father admits that he is an alcoholic, you stop thinking alcoholics are weak.

We need to stop looking for people who are like us and start listening to people who are not. Sometimes when we listen to a person who is making life miserable for the people around her, we learn that her life at home is more horrible than anything we have had to deal with.

What happens when we sit in someone else’s chair and ask what it is like to be them? What is it like to be your child? What is it like to be your parent? What is it like to be your minister?

What is it like to be 14? What is it like to be 84? What is it like to be a widow whose husband of 50 years just died?

What is it like to be 100 percent certain that Donald Trump should be president? What is it like to be 100 percent certain that Elizabeth Warren should be president?

What is it like to be Jewish? What is it like to be a Syrian refugee? What is it like to be Mexican immigrant?

What is it like to be your neighbor? What is it like to be your enemy?

The willingness to sit where another sits is the beginning of love.



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A democracy can die of too many lies; warns broadcasting legend Bill Moyers

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